Maryland horsemen, track owner see injury issue differently

Dueling statements from the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association (MTHA) and Maryland Jockey Club (MJC) Friday laid bare clear differences in the way Maryland’s horsemen and racetrack operator view the injury spike that led to racing’s cancellation this weekend.

After racing Thursday – a day in which one horse was euthanized on the track and another vanned off and reportedly euthanized later – Laurel Park canceled its three remaining weekend cards.

That cancellation came after prompting by the Maryland Racing Commission, as first reported by The Racing Biz.

Early Friday afternoon, the MTHA publicly released a letter its president, trainer Tim Keefe, had sent to Maryland Jockey Club acting president Mike Rogers. In it, Keefe called for racing to be shifted to Pimlico starting next weekend, with morning exercise at Laurel to be limited to “only joggers and gallopers” until the dirt strip at Laurel “has been evaluated and deemed safe.”

But Friday evening, the MJC released a public statement in which the word “surface” or “racetrack” did not appear.

Instead, the company said merely that it would work with the Maryland Racing Commission “to understand and address any issues of concern raised relating to recent injuries.”

The statement went on to say, “MJC will also be discussing plans for implementation of updated safety and veterinary protocols similar to those that have been in place in California since 2019 and have proven to significantly reduce the number of equine fatalities during racing and training.”

Those protocols call for MJC veterinarians to have broad powers substantially equivalent to those of the state vet to place horses on the vets’ list, bar them from participating in races or morning works, and mandate diagnostic tests. Additionally, the protocols address medication for morning works, horses with musculoskeletal injuries, and many other topics.

Horsemen acknowledge the importance of taking every reasonable step to enhance equine safety, but some push back on what they see as a narrative that they are at fault.

“These are not the result of horsemen that are sending out bad horses,” Keefe said in a Friday interview. “They’re just not.”

Keefe’s group has retained longtime Maryland track superintendent John Passero as a consultant and hopes to have him evaluate the racetrack and make recommendations for making it safer. Veteran Maryland horsemen largely swear by the work Passero did in his earlier stint at the MJC. But multiple sources indicated that MJC parent company 1/ST Racing had characterized Passero’s involvement as a “non-starter.”

An MJC text message to horsemen Friday evening indicated the racing office would be open Saturday to take entries for the next scheduled day of racing, April 27 – “at Laurel,” the message said.